Posts Tagged ‘outdoors’

Spring Wildflowers


Monday, May 6th, 2013

Spring Wildflowers

What I’m looking forward to this spring…

On my two acre wooded lot in Woodstock, Vermont, the spring time treats me to three of my favorite wildflowers – Purple Trillium, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, and Wild Columbine.  The Wild Columbine is distinct from the Red Columbine of the west and prefers rocky, wooded, or open slopes and parts of my woods is perfect habitat.  Jack-in-the Pulpit prefers damp woods and grows in two spots.  Purple Trillium has a special place in my heart.  My dad transplanted several plants from the Adirondack Mountains in our backyard and they bloomed every spring for as long as my parents lived in the house (over 50 years) and I imagine that they are still blooming 20 years later in memory of my parents and brother.  I also love the regional names we have for this flower in the northeast, Wakerobin and Stinking-Benjamin.  I wonder who Benjamin was and why he was honored, having his name associated with this lovely wildflower. (Or was it his smell.)

Purple Trillium

Purple Trillium © Charlie Rattigan


Jack-in-the-Pulpit © Charlie Rattigan

Wild Columbine

Wild Columbine © Charlie Rattigan

Photo Essay: Brown Pelicans


Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

Photo Essay: Brown Pelicans by Charlie Rattigan

Boca Grande, Florida Gasparilla Island  (26.738520 , -82.264413)

Just after sunrise on April 10, 2013 nearly 100 Brown Pelicans, Laughing Gulls, and Common Terns began a feeding frenzy several meters off shore from the Gulf beach just south of Gasparilla Island State Park.  Of the many pelicans feeding, it was not unusual to see as many as five or six birds rise up and dive in quick succession.  The activity lasted well over an hour and was repeated the next day.  The weather was bright and sunny and the wind out of the east and calm.  It was only these mornings that I saw this behavior and suspect that when the wind shifted to a southwesterly direction the fish moved way from the shore.

Divining Brown Pelican

Divining Brown Pelicans © Charlie Rattigan

five pelicans

Brown Pelicans © Charlie Rattigan

knifing into the water

Brown Pelicans knifing into the water © Charlie Rattigan

Brown Pelican Birds

Brown Pelicans © Charlie Rattigan

pelican in various poses

Brown Pelicans © Charlie Rattigan

Pelican takes off

Brown Pelican takes off © Charlie Rattigan

Pelicans dive 1

Brown Pelicans preparing to dive © Charlie Rattigan

Throw Back Thursday: Happy Birthday John James Audubon!


Thursday, April 25th, 2013

To celebrate John James Audubon’s 228th Birthday on April 26th download all Audubon Single Subject Apps for only $0.99! Available for iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Android, KindleFire & NOOK.  (Sale runs 4/25/13-4/29/13)

Bluebirds © John James Audubon

Today birders and naturalists around the world are celebrating the 228th (this year) birthday of John James Audubon, the French-American naturalist and artist.

An iconic figure in ornithology, Audubon revolutionized the practice of field identification, created fantastical yet realistic works of art, and worked hard to follow his passion of illustrating birds. Indeed, his name is emblazoned across the top of this page – now the figurehead of an organization synonymous with birds and conservation.

California Quail

California Quail © John James Audubon

Here are some brief – and perhaps less-known – facts about Audubon:
1. Audubon was born in Haiti, raised in France, and moved to Pennsylvania at age 18 to avoid conscription to Napolean’s army.
2. After moving from southeastern Pennsylvania to Kentucky (with his wife Lucy), Audubon was briefly thrown in jail due to bankruptcy from a failed business venture.
3. Besides the familiar collection of his paintings, Birds of North America, Audubon released Ornithological Biographies (life histories of various bird species) and Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America (a compilation of illustrations and text, started by Audubon and completed by his sons after his death).

His paintings, though, are what define him for modern birders. The birds’ unique poses – that attempted to bring some life and nobility to the dead specimens he often used as guides – invoke the extraordinary from the common.

Brown Pelican Birds

Brown Pelican © John James Audubon

It is interesting to reflect back on the days before high-quality optics were widely available for the study of birds. It was acceptable- actually the norm back then- to go out and “collect” specimens, a euphemism for killing birds to study. Studying these lifeless forms formed the basis for his artwork, and it is actually quite amazing that he was able to incorporate such life and action into his paintings. I can only imagine what his artwork would have looked like if he had been able study live birds in equal detail. Would his paintings have become as iconic?

So let’s celebrate the artist, his legacy, and the organization that bears his name. Happy 228th birthday to John James Audubon!

Throw Back Thursday: Variations in Rough-legged Hawks


Wednesday, April 17th, 2013
Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-legged Hawk by Lisa Densmore

Location: Lima, Montana

If you’re wondering where Lima (pronounced LI-ma, like the bean), Montana is, you are not geographically challenged. With due respect to the residents of this small ranching community in the southwestern part of the Treasure State, the only reason Lima entered my life was because we passed through it on the way home after a weekend in Idaho. I’m not apt to forget it. It took a long time to travel through Lima, not due to traffic – we might have seen two cars in two hours on the open road on which we traveled – but because we saw so many Rough-legged Hawks (Buteo lagopus).

Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-legged Hawk by Lisa Densmore

They perched everywhere, on the irrigation pipes, on the tops of electrical poles, on fence posts… In this hawk-rich environment, I gained a new appreciation for this rodent-eating raptor, which is on the large side for a buteos, averaging 19 to 24 inches tall. With so many of the species in one place, I realized how much variation there could be from one to another. The typical Rough-legged Hawk has a dark belly, though it may be blotchy. A black patch normally shades the carpal joint where the wing bends, but not always or it might be very small. The wings have lots of white on the underside, and its white tail has a black band near its end, but the black morph has a mostly dark tail. ID-ing a Rough-legged Hawk can be challenging if you don’t already know the bird. It’s more diverse than Grand Central Station during rush hour. Fortunately, it lives in a less populated environment than mid-town Manhattan, making it easy to spot.

I enjoyed seeing its color variations. The phenomenon is not unique to Rough-legged Hawks. While each avian on my Audubon Birds app has a common look, variations occur. Have you seen birds-of-a-color that really are not?

The Birds of Hawaii


Thursday, April 11th, 2013

Nene © Arthur Morris/VIREO

The Birds of Hawaii by Gene Walz

Hawaii is not the place to go if you’re intent on adding to your Life-Bird list. There just aren’t that many unique native birds left on the islands.

Since “civilization” reached Hawaii about 200 years ago, over 30 native bird species have gone extinct.  Recent evidence seems to suggest that more species were killed off by the original islanders; bird plumage played a huge role in their costumes and decoration.

When I was in Maui in January, I did see about three dozen species of birds. But most of them I could have or had seen elsewhere. Cardinals, skylarks, mannikins, white-eyes, the usual Euro-trash, some common shorebirds and waterbirds from the Americas, and others.

There was even a colony of Peach-faced Lovebirds thriving in south Kihei – so new that they aren’t yet in the bird guides for the island.

I take delight in finding and identifying all kinds of birds. But it’s actually disheartening to see non-tropical birds on tropical islands. Especially if they are contributing to the demise of the native birds, the endemics.

One of the last places to see Maui endemics is in Hosmer’s Grove, a canyon near the top of the extinct volcano Haleakala on the east side of the island.

I went there twice and managed to get long, satisfying views of the Apapane, Amakihi, Alauahio, I’iwi — all bright, active, wonderful bird finds. But I missed the Maui Parrotbill and Crested Honeycreeper, two high-priority target-birds that are rapidly disappearing on the island. A huge disappointment.

Nearby I found several NeNe (Hawaiian Goose), and in the shallows at Kealia Ponds I easily spotted Hawaiian Coots, Hawaiian Ducks, and many Hawaiian Stilts.

I went to Maui for the whale-watching, the seafood and fresh fruit, the beaches, and the warmth. It would have been great had I been able to tick all the bird species I targeted. I guess I’ll have to go back. Damn!

Throwback Thursday: Winter Sparrows


Thursday, February 21st, 2013

Throwback Thursday: Winter Sparrows by Drew Weber Originally Posted 2/16/12

As I related in my last post on ducks, the winter months can appear to be a slow period for birding. However, in addition to ducks, there is another group of birds that is more diverse and easy to observe in the winter compared to the summer: the sparrows.

Sparrows have always had the bad rap of looking the same and being difficult to identify. They are often lumped into a group of birds called the “lbj’s” or “little brown jobbies”: birds that all look the same and aren’t worth the time it takes to identify them. To these folks I say: nonsense! With some patience, sparrow identification is pretty straightforward with most species having obvious features that can be used for identification.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow © Drew Weber

Across much of North America, the Song Sparrow is the default sparrow. It is worth the time to really get to know the field marks of Song Sparrows. It has smudgy red-brown streaks on its chest and a spot in the center of its chest.

White-throated Sparrow birds

White-throated Sparrow © Drew Weber

During the winter months, one of the most common sparrows is the White-throated Sparrow. Aptly named, the White-throated Sparrow has a bright white patch on its throat, as well as white stripes on its head that turn bright yellow near the beak. These are one of the most common feeder birds in many areas, especially when snow has covered up their more natural food sources.

White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow © Drew Weber

A close relative, the White-crowned Sparrow, has bold black and white barring on its head. White-crowned Sparrows are less common at feeders, often tending to hang around overgrown hedgerows along fields. Depending on the habitat around your yard, you may be lucky enough to host these large sparrows.

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco © Drew Weber

Another easy to identify winter sparrow is the boldly patterned Dark-eyed Junco. Dark above and white below, the little twittering noises of these birds as they scavenge for seeds under my feeder always makes me happy. Juncos vary widely in their plumage across their range and it can be fun to scan through the flocks, looking for a ‘pink-sided’ junco.

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow © Drew Weber

The most northern of the winter sparrows is the American Tree Sparrow. With its red cap, it is superficially similar to the Chipping Sparrow, a summertime resident. However, the bi-colored bill and spot on the breast separate it from Chipping Sparrow.

These are the most common sparrows you will encounter during the winter in the northeast. Most of them have pretty distinctive features, so the next time you see a sparrow hopping under the feeder or in the shrubs, take the time to identify it and add it to the list of birds that you can quickly recognize.

Photo Essay: Nightscapes


Monday, February 11th, 2013

Photo Essay by Josh Haas: Nightscapes


Sedona Nightscape, Trails of Light

Sedona Nightscape, Trails of Light

Sedona Nightscape:

This very special image took hundreds of miles in travel, days of scouting, hours throughout the night shooting, and hours of post-processing. This makes it an ‘earned’ image in my book. It’s a classic long exposure but instead of just leaving the shutter open for 30 minutes, I created this using multiple stacked exposures instead. This was because the town of Sedona was close enough that in a super long exposure, the light pollution would’ve ruined the image. The first shot was taken about 45 minutes after sunset when there was still enough ambient light to illuminate the rocky ridge in the foreground. After that, I had to leave my gear in place and wait a couple hours until it was dark enough to begin taking the 30 second exposures one after another. I did this for another 90 minutes until I was sure I had a sizable group of images without plane lights and other problems to create a nice star trail image. Finally, the shooting was complete. On the plane ride home at an altitude of 30,000 feet, several interested people on the flight watched as the final image was created. A night image was my goal weeks before heading to Arizona for this trip and I’m excited to say we made it happen.


Camera Body & Lens- Canon 1D Mark III, 24-70mm f2.8 lens

Aperture- f2.8

Shutter Speed- Multiple 30sec exposures, stacked

ISO- 250


Lightning with a Purple Hue

Lightning with a Purple Hue


Lightning with a Purple Hue:

After years of waiting for the perfect storm to photograph, it was finally here. The storm has to be just right to make lightning photography work and this one was perfect. Using an intervalometer, I set up underneath my deck and began shooting. After setting my exposure settings, focus and composition the intervalometer took over to kick off the exposures one after another while I retreated inside where it was safe. This was a great compromise that made my wife happy. =) Safety has to be number one in storm photography and this device sure makes it safe. While inside, I waited until the rain was close enough that it would compromise any good images and then retrieved my gear. After loading the 100+ images, I had one that turned out great (and this one is it!) The purple sky, tree line and lighting all work together to make this a nice image.


Camera Body & Lens- Canon Rebel T2i, Tamron 28-75mm f2.8 lens

Aperture- f6.3

Shutter Speed- 20sec

ISO- 100


Lake Superior Lightning

Lake Superior Lightning


Lake Superior Lightning:

A more recent image, this was taken on the south shores of Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. After a day of shooting waterfalls the lighting was drab that evening so I figured my shooting was done for the day. It was about that time I began to hear distant thunder and decided to make the trek out to the beach to see what was happening. As a distant storm approached I set up and waited. The evening light dwindled and the storm approached; a hole in the clouds opened up at the perfect time show-casing an orange sky lit by the fading sun. The lighting popped and all I needed was a rock star of a lightning bolt to finish off the scape. Just before the rain began my wishes paid off and I got my lightning. To create this image I set my aperture, ISO and then used 6 second exposures over and over until the right lightning appeared in the sky (notice my stopped down aperture of f13 to keep too much light from hitting the sensor). As the sky becomes darker, this technique gets easier as you can use longer exposures but because I was shooting before dark, I had to stop down my aperture and could only use 6 second exposures without blowing out the images.


Camera Body & Lens- Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 24-70mm f2.8 lens

Aperture- f13

Shutter Speed- 6sec

ISO- 200



Star-filled Night with Space Station

Star-filled Night with Space Station

Star-filled Night with Space Station:

This image is the result of a family member contacting me about some action I might be interested in. The International Space Station was set to pass by our night sky that night. At the time, I was still living in the city where light pollution would ruin the image so I grabbed my gear and headed out in the country in search of a spot. I ended up on a golf course and struggled to find a decent spot with enough time to get set up in time. I was able to make it work and record the image with the International Space Station streaking across the sky. For all of you photographers out there, it pays to spread the word and build a base of people that can give you tips on where possible action may be. I’ve captured several images this way and had I not been tipped off, the images would not exist today.


Camera Body & Lens- Canon 1D Mark II, Tamron 28-75mm f2.8 lens

Aperture- f2.8

Shutter Speed- 30sec

ISO- 100

To see more of Josh’s work, get tips on photography, or to sign up for workshops and trips please visit

A Family Trip with an Unexpected Find


Monday, February 4th, 2013

A Family Trip with an Unexpected Find by Josh Haas

While in Lafayette, IN for what would be our last Christmas gathering, I awoke well before sunrise to the sound of a baby playing in her crib.  Being up early has its advantages and like many mornings, I jumped on my iPhone for things like the daily weather, news, and of course a gander through the Audubon Field Guide to North American Birds app.  Using the “Find Birds with eBird” feature, I scanned the list and one bird jumped out very quickly.  A Varied Thrush had been seen the day prior no more than 12 miles from where I was staying.  This bird should be in California, let alone Indiana so it was worth the effort.  If you haven’t checked out this great feature in the app, it’s worth your time.  It’s quick and much better than some of the other apps that feature eBird searching.

Cooper's Hawk, Adult © Josh Haas

Cooper’s Hawk, Adult © Josh Haas

Unfortunately, after two morning attempts for this western thrush, I never did see it but I did get a nice opportunity with an adult Cooper’s Hawk before meeting a nice birder who mentioned having Saw-whet Owls roosting on his property.  That obviously perked some interest!  I jumped at the invitation and soon found myself riding in a gator across his property 6 miles away after a different bird.  Boy it would’ve paid to be prepared for the 12 degree temps but who would’ve known a family Christmas could turn into a birding adventure.  I suppose in our family, it’s very likely!

Sure enough, as we approached a small Cedar grove, we slowed and eventually stopped.  Looking into the woods, one can’t help but notice the many yellow ribbons hanging on trees marking where birds were or are roosting.  The gentleman does surveys daily to gather data about the individuals.   Amazing commitment…

Northern Saw-whet Owl © Josh Haas

Northern Saw-whet Owl © Josh Haas

All in all, he showed me three individual Saw-whet Owls.  One was even awake and willing to be photographed.  Oh man was I one happy Daddy!  This property was amazing and he told stories of the many species of Owls, Raptors and Passerines that fledged over the years from the 200 acre parcel.  This is another example of a great find and a genuine birder willing to share his great spot.

To see more of Josh’s work, get tips on photography, or to sign up for workshops and trips please visit

2013 BIGBY – Big Green Year


Thursday, January 31st, 2013

2013 BIGBY – Big Green Year by Josh Haas

Big Green Year

Birding by Bike © Josh Haas

For 2013 I’ve decided to blend my passion of birding and cycling into a one-year event.  Some of you may know what a Big Year is (seeing as many bird species in a calendar year, within specified boundaries) but I’m taking it one step further.  I’m doing a BIg Green Big Year (BIGBY).  My boundaries are anywhere within Barry County, MI and my goal will be to see as many bird species as possible by bike.  My ride of choice is shown below.

Josh and the BIGBY Bike

Josh with his BIGBY Bike © Glances at Nature

This cyclocross bike is perfect for the job with slightly wider/knobby tires for back roads.  While perfect on gravel, it still has a road feel for when I need to cover some serious mileage quickly, while on pavement.  I’ve outfitted the bike with lights for night riding after nocturnals, a rack for carrying my scope and a unique bag on the front to carry my binocs for quick use.  I do want to say a big thanks to our favorite optics folks at Eagle Optics who helped me choose an inexpensive binoc for this rough-road journey and also a big thanks to Mike at Team Active Cycling and Fitness for yet another great bike!

My plan the first couple months is to concentrate on winter species until the ice thaws and the first spring migrants begin showing up.  As spring thrusts upon us, longer rides will ensue and I will be after the mass of migrants moving through.  Barry County breeders will be the focus in summer, fall will bring another mad dash for any missed migrants and the last couple months of 2013 will be dedicated to any winter species still missing.

Red-headed Woodpecker & Trumpeter Swan

Red-headed Woodpecker & Trumpeter Swan © Josh Haas

We’re through the first month of 2013 and I’ve accomplished six rides thus far with a total of 42 species and 95 miles ridden.. The first ride brought species such as Snow Bunting, Bald Eagle, and Horned Lark. The second ride yielded a Red-headed Woodpecker, a few late ducks and an Eastern Meadowlark still lingering. The third ride was short but I was able to snag a Wild Turkey. During my fourth ride, I was able to track down Trumpeter Swans and a Rough-legged Hawk. While my fifth and sixth rides didn’t yield many, important species such as Red-breasted Nuthatch and Red-shouldered Hawk were added to the list.  These are just the highlights of each ride.  There are still winter specialties to get so stay tuned!  Please visit to see the latest tally and full list all year long.

To see more of Josh’s work, get tips on photography, or to sign up for workshops and trips please visit

Nature Stories: Snowflake


Thursday, January 3rd, 2013
Snowfall in Vermont 12/27/12

Snowfall in Vermont 12/27/12

Anyone who has looked closely at a snowflake under a magnifying glass, or even with their naked eye, has an appreciation for the intricacy and delicacy of these frozen ice crystals that descend from the sky.  Exactly how do they form and why do they assume the shapes that they do?

Snowflake © Kenneth G. Libbrecht

Snowflake © Kenneth G. Libbrecht

According to physicist Kenneth Lebbrecht, in his book The Snowflake: Winter’s Secret Beauty, snowflakes and snow crystals are made of ice. As its name implies, a snow crystal consists of a single crystal of ice.  Snowflake is a general term that includes all shapes and combinations of snow crystals.  A snowflake can be a single snow crystal, or a conglomerate of crystals.

A snow crystal is not a frozen raindrop.  When raindrops freeze, they are referred to as sleet; the individual particles of ice lack the intricate patterns of snowflakes.  Rather, snow crystals form when water vapor in the clouds condenses directly into ice. As more vapor condenses, the ice crystal grows and develops, creating elaborate patterns.

Snowflake © Kenneth G. Libbrecht

Snowflake © Kenneth G. Libbrecht

There is a sequence of events in the formation of a snow crystal.  Evaporation from the ocean, lakes and streams, as well as the transpiration of plants and the expiration of animals puts a large amount of water vapor into the air.  When a mass of air cools, the water vapor it contains condenses out of it.  In summer, when this occurs next to the ground, we refer to the condensed water droplets as dew. When the air high above the ground is cooled, the water vapor condenses onto particles of dust, forming clouds full of water droplets.  In winter, the individual water droplets start to freeze around 14 degrees Fahrenheit. They don’t all freeze at once; gradually the water droplets surrounding the particles of ice evaporate into water vapor which then condenses onto the ice crystals, growing snow crystals.


Snowflake © Kenneth G. Libbrecht

Many snow crystals begin as hexagonal prisms – flakes with smooth facets, or sides, arranged in a hexagonal shape.  “Branches” then sprout at each of the six corners of this hexagonal crystal and as the surrounding water vapor condenses on them, they grow. Because the entire crystal passes through the same climatic conditions, the branches tend to grow in a similar pattern at a similar rate, creating the six-pointed star-shaped crystal, or stellar dendrite, that we are familiar with.  Many shapes, including columns, plates and needles, are formed.  Humidity, and particularly, temperature, affects the pattern of growth.  Snow crystals tend to form simpler shapes when the humidity is low, and more complex shapes at higher humidities. Even so, the majority of snowflakes are not symmetrical.  Within a given cloud, different snowflakes are blown in different directions, encountering different temperatures, which results in slightly different shapes.  Thus, no two snowflakes are identical.

Snowfall © Mary Holland

Snowfall © Mary Holland